Andrew White, Lookingglass Theatre Company Founder
I was fortunate enough to speak with Andrew White, founding member and current Artistic Director of Lookingglass Theatre Company. As an Ensemble Member and performer, he has participated in the workshop and development of more than thirty Lookingglass original adaptations and world premieres. He wrote and directed the company's 1989 production of Of One Blood, about the 1964 murders of Schwerner, Chaney, and Goodman in Mississippi. In 2004, he wrote and directed an adaptation of George Orwell's 1984, which received a Joseph Jefferson Award for Best Adaptation. His play Eastland will open in June, 2012.
Andy has worked in Lookingglass Outreach and Education programs with students of all ages, developing and implementing arts-integrated units in schools, facilitating faculty workshops across the Chicagoland area, and working with teenagers across the city to use theater as a means of engaging in dialogue about community issues from HIV to racism. He has taught acting as an adjunct faculty member at Northwestern University and National-Louis University. He has worked with medical students and patients at the Rehabilitation Institute and served as an Illinois Artist-in-Residence at schools in Chicago, Evanston, and Park Ridge. For the last eight years, Andy has been a facilitator with the Anti-Defamation League and has led Summer Institute sessions with teachers for Facing History and Ourselves, with the goal of using theater techniques to integrate into their curricula.
In 2007, Andy co-founded Mosaic Experience, a company dedicated to dialogue and an arts-based approach to facilitating conversations about diversity. Mosaic Experience works with educational institutions, non-profit organizations, and corporations throughout the Chicago area. He has also worked as writer and director with The Breakthrough Group (2003 to present), constructing and designing scenarios which address the various needs of diverse corporate clients.
1. What advice would you give to graduating students? I think, and I guess with the passing of Steve Jobs, the way he thought is very much in people's consciousness right now, and I don't mean in any way, shape, or form to draw comparisons between any of us and Steve Jobs; however, I will say there is a little bit of an analogy in the "think different" concept and the way we [Lookingglass] approach theater. A few years ago we, as an ensemble, boiled down our vision into three keywords: collaboration, invention, and transformation. Invention is essentially what Steve Jobs represents, and what that means is not being beholden to old ways of thinking. I think I would stress the importance of challenging assumptions (your own and other people's) and not being afraid to look at the world and experiences in new ways. I know that's kind of vague, but I don't want to be really prescriptive because that would be counter to the advice.
2. If you could go back in time and speak to your college self what would you say? The stuff that comes to mind is so stupid, like relax, be patient, things take time, etc. I think this is a good question, but I just don't have an interesting answer to it. The truth is I wasn't an impetuous, impulsive person. I was a good kid. If anything, I wish I had broken out a little bit more than I did. But I didn't really make huge transgressions in my college years that I wish I could go back and slap myself upside the head for. I was a pretty ordinary, play by the rules kid.
3. What was your biggest mistake in your career? Of course the stupid, silly answer is helping start a theater company, but that's so not the case, actually. One of the things I learned as an actor is that initially, after you graduate, you go into an audition and you have different expectations that you will get the role, and I think quickly I learned that all you can do as an actor is hope to leave the room satisfied with your own performance. You cannot change, you cannot affect what the director is looking for, and you cannot determine whether or not you are a match for what the director is looking for. All that is within your power is whether you leave that room feeling good about what you did in there. That was a valuable thing for me to learn. Those two minutes of your audition are really just about all you can control.
4. Where did you get your first job in the theater, and what was your big break? My first job in a professional theater was while I was a student in college. I was a sophomore, and I got a part in a play at a theater in Rogers Park that no longer exists. I played the cabin boy Tommy, and that was my first gig in Chicago. My big break probably was in '88 when I got cast in a pilot that was shooting in Los Angeles called TV 101. It was a series on CBS, and it ran for a year. The reason it's germain is because it was professional. It was a big break, and it was very exciting and all of that, but it also helped me fund Lookingglass at the time, which was just starting. So, you know, I was able to buy a lighting system for the company. It just coincided with when the company was being founded, and it enabled me to make a concrete contribution to the growth of the company.
5. What are two habits that contributed to your success? I think the flexibility and adaptability that the company has shown when it comes to having an actor's life is very important. We have a loose enough rubber band so that people feel like they can go to Los Angeles to work and pursue their career goals but that they always have a home to come back to. We've always had enough people to keep things going here so that when our individual members veer off, there are enough people here to keep it going. We have an elasticity that has a looseness and tightness to it. The second habit of Lookingglass is rotating leadership. We really cultivated ourselves as leaders, not just as individual artists. We encouraged each other to write and direct our own projects. We encouraged each other to become passionate about a story and to bring it forward as a project to direct, which resulted in not only growing artistic leadership but also in growing administrative leadership. We as an organization gave people the confidence to try new leadership positions. None of us had ever been an Artistic Director before. We all did a two year stint and that, I think, set an example that anyone could do it. So cultivating leadership amongst our own ranks was an important habit we formed.
7. What are you working on now? Artistically, my next big project is Eastland. Otherwise, the bulk of my arts administration work here definitely has a heavier emphasis on the administration side, which, you can make a case, has an art to it, but I don't have any other artistic projects currently. From the administration side, we are coming up on our 25th Anniversary season, which is cool, and so that is something we're all thinking a lot about and trying to plan for.